A girl meets her new step father

By Jane Fairweather

Emily looked round slightly frantically at the small halt of Oncombe. No one on the platform to greet her in this strange place! Where was mother? Where, for that matter, was the porter; there did not seem to be one.

She picked up her bag, which was not that heavy for most of her things were in her trunk, which was coming separately. Miss Crouch had at least promised her that would be done, despite the disgraceful manner of her leaving.

Then Emily hesitantly walked out into the yard where there was a large heap of coal and little else, well, except for a great heap of bricks, which were no doubt intended for some new house. She glanced round frantically, then spotted a dog cart driven by an older woman who was dressed all in black and was almost invisible on the other side of the heap of bricks. Well, she had better go and ask where Oncombe House was; if no one was meeting her then she had better walk.

“Are you Miss Porter? If you are, I’ve been sent to fetch you.” Came a solid Yorkshire voice before Emily could say anything.

“Yes,” Emily called feeling faintly ridiculous at having thought herself abandoned, “How kind of you to fetch me.”

“Not kind of me, thank your Mother and Sir James.” The woman snapped rather grumpily. “And you’re late, Miss, though I suppose I should not blame you for the train company’s fault.”

Emily uncomfortably climbed in to the dog cart behind the surly driver.

“I am sorry, I did not catch your name.” She said awkwardly.

“Miss Hurley to you, Miss.”

Emily politely enquired how her Mother was.

“As well as you’d expect for a house keeper to the gentry, who is likely to marry into a name.”

“I am sorry, I have not heard anything about that.” Emily said awkwardly.

Would her dead father have minded? Probably not, she decided, provided it was a nice, good man who would be kind to Mother. Her Mother undoubtedly needed someone.

“Don’t suppose you have heard anything!” Came the sharp voice. “There has been much scurrying between bedrooms, which is Sir James and his house keeper’s since his first wife died; but now there is open talk of an engagement and he is taking her to meet his neighbours and family, quite open like. I would not be surprised if there is a baby coming. Sir James would not marry the likes of her without a bun in the oven.”

“You surely don’t mean that! My Mother just wouldn’t!” Emily exclaimed, feeling on the verge of leaping from the dog cart and walking the rest of the way, or even back to the station. She was genuinely horrified at this assault on her Mother’s honour.

“Well if she has not got a bun in the oven, they must have been mighty careful with the sponges, or just lucky. You should hear her bed creak in the night, Miss; and don’t tell me she is doing it by herself. And I have seen Sir James creeping about myself, not once, but three or four times.”

“You must have made a mistake. Perhaps my Mother is just restless.”

“Miss, I have told you my view; take it or leave it.”

They relapsed into silence as the dog cart left the far from wide macadam road with its dusty pounded down pebbles and occasional puddles and entered into quite a long drive under beeches, which were now in full leaf, and was rather lovely in the fitful sunshine. The drive was cobbled and Emily found herself being bounced about so much that conversation was almost impossible. Miss Hurley swept them over a narrow, quite full ford in a stream, almost without pausing.

“Quite a driver!” Emily thought to herself as she found herself in front of a small but very pleasant country house with two rather than three wings and the usual three storeys. If it had not been for the grand approach she would have thought it was a vicarage, she decided; but undoubtedly it was a very pleasant house.

Miss Hurley swept them round to the back where there were a couple of stables.

“Back door for you, Miss! You’re not family, at least for now.”

“Fair enough!” Emily thought, wondering if she ever would be family.

She did not at all like her mother surrendering to this unknown man before she was married, well assuming Miss Hurley was not making it up, about which she was not sure, either way. Propriety was not something that worried her, but the problems of having a child without a husband were considerable and she prayed Mother would not end up in that situation.

Then she remembered her own problems. Miss Crouch would no doubt have communicated with Mother by now; and Mother was not going to be pleased; and while she would not get whipped at the advanced age of twenty, nevertheless this was going to be awkward. There was the question of her small allowance. It came from her Father’s carefully constructed will, which in turn derived in part from Grandfather’s; but Mother had control over whether to pay it or not, at least till Emily was twenty-one. Well, in theory her Father’s brother James had some say in that, but James had never, to her knowledge, said Boo to a Goose in his life, let alone Mother in full flight. This gave Mother a power over her that she felt very uneasy about in these particular circumstances.

Emily picked up her bag and very nervously followed the redoubtable Miss Hurley through the back door into a dark passage. She was then shown up the back stairs to a small attic room with a bed, a small rag rug and a wash stand, where she was invited to make herself at home. Then Miss Hurley shut the door and she was left feeling very alone, staring at the dusty skylight.

*          *          *

Emily had been ushered in rather abruptly by a young maid into the small sitting room that went with the Housekeeper’s quarters, where her Mother was about to pour tea from an unusually elegant china teapot, decorated with roses, into two matching teacups. After a brief greeting from her Mother, which was worryingly lacking in any warmth, Emily sat uncomfortably, glancing round the newly decorated sitting room with several very good prints on its walls in the modern Pre-Raphaelite style. Faced with continuing silence, she glanced at her Mother’s very elegant blue frock. She suspected one of these new Liberty bodices was somewhere under it. Yes, undoubtedly Mother had come up somewhat in the world, whether the dour Miss Hurley had been malicious, or telling the truth.

“I trust you had a good journey, Emily.” Mother remarked rather frostily as she finished pouring the second cup, then added before the question could be answered, “Do you still have two lumps of sugar, or have you grown out of too much sweetness?”

“Just one please.” Emily murmured, surprised Mother had not remembered that she had gone down to one some while before she had left home.

Mother added the sugar and handed over the cup; and they sipped their tea in silence for what seemed an uncomfortably long time, though it was probably only a few seconds.

“I suppose I should come to the point and stop this ridiculous welcoming ceremony.” Said Mother abruptly, putting her half full cup down. “I have had a most distressing letter from Miss Crouch. It would appear, Emily, that you are guilty of a most alarming series of misdeeds during your period as an assistant mistress at her school.”

“I really did not mean…” Emily stuttered.

“Firstly, but not most seriously,” Said Mother grimly, “You took a girl out for the day on the top of a London omnibus.”

“We saw all the sights, Mother. The Houses of Parliament and Whitehall and the River. It was very educational. We saw a lot to look at.”

“Well I am sure that all the men who got a free view of you and your charge’s drawers as you went up and down the ladder on the outside of the omnibus must have thought it a very interesting sight. In heaven’s name, what possessed you, girl?”

“If Miss Arnold had not seen us, it would have been fine, Mother.”

“Well, she did see you. I imagine you got a lecture. What happened to the girl?”

“Miss Crouch whipped her, quite hard actually; it was very unfair. And she was, is, called Felicity, Mother; she has got a name. And she made me watch as my punishment.”

Emily remembered the scene. Felicity had stood there in her schoolgirl tunic with her auburn ringlets down to her shoulders, quietly crying.

“You will stand there and watch the consequences of your actions.” Miss Crouch had proclaimed, so Emily had stood there, feeling terribly helpless.

Poor Felicity had very reluctantly and slowly removed her tunic and then her underclothes apart from her shift before submitting to lying face down over a high stool. Miss Couch had very solemnly raised the shift and soundly whipped the girl with a vicious little thing made of hippopotamus hide. There had been a lot of tears and a lot of pleading, which had distressed Emily almost more than if she had been the victim. And yet, watching that punishment had raised very strange emotions in her.

“By the look on your face, it must have been quite distressing. I must say I feel a little sorry for the girl. You should have been the one in her place.”

“Yes,” said Emily, trying not to burst into tears.

“But then, young lady, you enticed some of the oldest girls in the school to begin smoking and even formed a little club where it took place regularly.”

“But Mother, men have their smoking clubs all the time.”

“But not at school, Emily, never at school; and anyway those are men that do that, not women.”

“But Mother, I have seen you smoke.”

“Emily you know full well that is different. Anyway the club was closed and the matter was let go. Really Miss Crouch was very tolerant of your stupidity. I would have thought that even at nineteen, and despite the fact you were an assistant mistress, you deserved a taste of the rod for that. But now the crowning glory. You were discovered with your previous partner in crime, Felicity, now in her final year at the school, not to mention two of the girls from the smoking club, more or less naked, and apparently quite drunk, vigorously spanking one another with a hair brush apparently for pleasure. I have never heard the like of it, Emily. Wherever did you get the alcohol?”

“One of the servants bought it for me. I am not going to give you his name, it would not be fair. It was only a half bottle of whisky.”

“No doubt you could not afford more. Who was spanking who, incidentally?”

“I did. I don’t like being spanked and the others did.”

“What? All of them? I thought it might just have been Felicity.”

“Yes all of them, though…”

Emily stopped herself from saying that it was Felicity who she really enjoyed doing it with, but the others joining in had been rather fun.

“So you don’t like being spanked, Emily. Is that the case?”

“No, it is terribly humiliating. I always hated being spanked.”

“Then why do you like to inflict it on others?”

“I just enjoy it; I don’t know why. And they usually seem to like me doing it.”

Emily rather ridiculously put her teacup down, which she realized to her surprise she had gone on sipping through this odd conversation.

“Would you like another cup?” Her mother asked equally oddly.

“Yes,” she replied.

Her mother poured another cup for them both, first putting her own undrunk tea into the slops dish. They started to sip their second cups.

“After your confessions (and I am grateful for your honesty, few girls would have been so direct) I suppose I should be honest with you about what has happened to me. I know this may be very hard for you to accept, I know how fond you were of your father, but Sir James Fawcett has asked me to marry him and I have accepted. We are having an engagement party in a few days. To be honest, I am not really in a position to say ‘no’, as I am carrying his heir.”

‘So Miss Hurley was right!’ Emily thought, but she kept it to herself.

“Well it is not, I will confess, the first time it has happened. I was quite wild with your father when I was young and escaped from the chaperones on more than one occasion. You were a love child. You may even have noticed that you were born only a few months after our marriage. People politely pretended you were very premature, but everyone knew of course. And so, at thirty-nine, I am repeating what I did when I was eighteen. The exception is that this is a very big step up in the world for me if it goes through, and I cannot really NOT allow it to go through, because apart from anything else, if the marriage did not go through it would mean ruin on this occasion, total ruin.”

“Not much of a choice!” Said Emily with genuine sympathy.

“But I need you to help me. Will you help me?”

“It depends,” Emily replied cautiously, “but if I really can do it I will. Are you thinking of me being your bridesmaid or organising flowers, or something? Or even making friends with Sir James, which I know I will find difficult.”

“In a way, yes, I do want you to make friends with Sir James; but it is a very odd request and if you want to say ‘no’ I will accept the consequences, bitter though they may well be for me.”

“Yes,” Said Emily very gently, “What is it Mother?”

“He feels very strongly that, even though you are twenty, you should be caned for your appalling behaviour; and he is saying that unless you are severely punished he will not accept you into his family. But even worse, he is saying that unless you are soundly punished he will withdraw the marriage proposal. He is a headstrong man and he has moods that change. He could well change his mind about breaking off the engagement, but I really cannot be sure. I foolishly showed him Miss Crouch’s letter. I should never have done it. I don’t know what to do!”

“Mother, you are fraught. Just calm down. I’ve taken the odd spanking in my time. Father could spank pretty hard. I will just take it. You will do it, presumably, will you?”

“No, unfortunately. He is absolutely adamant that if you are to enter his family then you must accept his punishment.”

Emily felt her heart sink in the general direction of the carpet and considerably further. Then it struck her that a short period of intense pain might have its worldly rewards over a fair number of years.

“Alright Mother,” she answered, “I will do it, but no bare bottoms. I am not going to give him the pleasure of that.”

“Which is, by the sound of it, something you and your friend Felicity must know quite a bit about. No, I will make sure that he agrees to that.” Her mother replied with a hysterical laugh into which her daughter joined.

*          *          *

The twenty-four hours after this, to say the least, strange conversation with her Mother, were the oddest of Emily’s life and even odder than the conversation. There were presumably negotiations between Mother and Sir James that she simply never knew anything about. During that time, she was more or less imprisoned in her attic room with the perhaps strange exception that she was summoned to her Mother’s sitting room to eat a large beef sandwich in the evening and then again at the following midday, and a modest plate of bacon and egg at breakfast time. Presumably it was felt that it was not right for her to eat with either the family or the servants until her status was resolved.

Finally, as she ate the second beef sandwich at lunchtime, Emily heard Mother say, “It is all agreed. You will go to his study in the next hour and he will give you a lecture and then cane you on the seat of your drawers. He insists on nine strokes, though I wanted six. I do strongly suggest that you will need your thickest drawers. After that, he seems to be saying that you can have one of the family rooms and you will be under his protection, which might well be a mixed blessing; but I should accept it for the time.”

So it was really going to happen. Emily, who had been growing distraught at not knowing what was going to happen, felt something close to relief.

“I don’t suppose you ever had the cane, or someone’s told you what it is like?” She found herself asking her Mother with deliberate casualness; she was determined not to show how frightened she felt.

Mother rather oddly giggled slightly before replying. Emily wondered what on earth was funny. Was Mother laughing at her forthcoming come-uppance? She opened her mouth to say something very rude to her parent, but was forestalled.

“I have never told this to anyone else.” Said Mother very awkwardly. “And I would be grateful if you never repeat it. Your father had the same fad that you have. He used to cane me regularly. Usually just lightly to get me worked up, which it invariably did. No bruises, no broken skin, you know. And just twice in fifteen years he really caned me for things I think I did deserve to be punished for. What I had done to deserve it I am not going to tell you, but I can tell you it was incredibly painful and it burned afterwards and I was incredibly shaken, but I also felt incredibly gratified after a while. You might find it interesting to try that with Felicity sometime, but away from here please.”

“So you weren’t really angry when you read Miss Crouch’s letter?” Emily asked, feeling confused.

“No. In fact I laughed when I read it. It reminded me so much of things your father and I used to do when we were young. But unfortunately James asked what was so funny and took it off me and announced steps had to be taken; and so we have ended up in this bizarre situation. I am sorry. But I can tell you it is not all bad and you will be alive at the end of it. I remember being absolutely terrified the first time he caned me for real. It is a long way down to your toes you know and you think rather too much while you are bending. But you’d better get this over. It is down the staircase from just up the corridor from here and then his study is to the right and the second door on the right.”

“Well I’d better go and see if you are right.” Said Emily with determined sang froid and strode off.

She accidentally turned left instead of right at the foot of the stairs and knocked on an apparently empty room; at any rate there was no answer and she turned round several times wondering what to do, her heart beating wildly. Luckily Miss Hurley came past and pointed her in the right direction.

“Good luck, Miss.” Emily heard the old woman say as she started to walk down the corridor towards her doom.

As she came up to the door she wondered how much Miss Hurley knew about all this. Miss Hurley seemed to know everything. Still, the old woman did not seem that bad a person.

She was so busy thinking this that she barely realized she had knocked.

“Come in!” Said a fierce sounding voice.

She took a breath and opened the door on a not unpleasant room with numerous bookcases and wide windows that looked over wide green fields and woods. And there, in his waistcoat with a cane in his hand, which was somewhere between three and four feet long, was Sir James. She noted the solid body, which she had to admit looked interesting, not that he was that tall. The blue eyes seemed gentler than she had expected and the slightly receding black hair. Yes, she could see what Mother saw in him.

“So, you are the little fiend with perverse tendencies, are you?” Sir James stated with something approaching amusement.

“Yes Sir, I suppose that is what I am.” She said, trying to keep a straight face.

“So you know what you did was wrong.”

It was scarcely a question, she thought, but she replied, “Yes Sir, I do understand that.”

“Very well, let us get it over with. After this, I doubt if you will have any inclination to repeat your naughtiness.”

‘If only it was as simple as that,’ Emily thought but did not say, as suddenly Felicity’s auburn hair and gentle eyes came into her mind.

“Face my desk and bend over.”

Oh God, it really was happening. She had more than half expected to be let off. Still, this had to be got through for Mother’s sake. She bent, remembering her mother’s dry comment about what a long way it is to your toes. She realized she was shivering. Her demure black pleated skirt was laboriously pulled up to her waist, then her much more colourful embroidered cotton petticoat, which was a gift that Felicity had worked long and hard on. Then her shift was yanked out of her drawers and also pulled up, which was a shock; she really had expected her shift to be there and give her that little bit more protection.

Oh God, it really was going to be just her drawers. Then it flashed into her mind that both she and her mother had forgotten about putting on her thickest drawers in the confusion of that strange conversation. What a thing to forget!

“Right, nine strokes, young lady. You will count each one and you will say, ‘thank you Sir’ after each one. Do you understand that?”

“Yes Sir.”

She thought, very perversely, that Felicity would enjoy a game like this.

The cane tapped unkindly several times around the middle of her bottom, then swished unexpectedly, catching her off balance. The sting was so intense that to her annoyance she started crying and found it quite hard to say, “One, thank you, Sir.”

The second and third landed within an inch of the first, and her tears turned hysterical and she had to resist a deep desire to thrust her hands across her bottom. She decided she knew what her Mother had meant about thinking you might not be alive at the end of this. There was a brief pause that seemed far too long, then the second three started on the lower part of her bottom and she heard herself half scream through her tears. Somehow she managed to count. Then another brief pause and the last three scythed unmercifully into her crease and the top of her thighs and she really howled. For whatever reason he seemed to ignore that she failed to count these.

“You may stand up.” Came into her ears as from another realm.

She stood and clutched at her pain with the tears rolling.

When the tears had more or less subsided and she had summoned the strength to adjust her clothes, Sir James announced, “You were very brave, my girl. I thought we’d have to have your Mama in to hold you. But she assured me you would take it, and to my surprise you did.”

Then he added gravely, “Do you think you can refrain from bad conduct like this in future.”

“I am sure I can, Sir.” She stated as firmly as she could, knowing she was lying through her teeth.

“Well I am sure that you must have led the other girl on. Not the sort of thing that nice girls usually get up to now, is it?”

“Yes Sir, I am sure it was my fault.”

“Well provided I have your word on it, she can even come to stay. Can’t say fairer than that now, can I?”

“Thank you, Sir, very much.” Emily replied, genuinely meaning it, while wondering to herself whether she and Felicity could get away with making love in this dragon’s lair. Would they be allowed to share a room, she wondered? However, at this moment she felt the pain in her bottom required urgent attention. Perhaps Mother had something she could rub in? Perhaps a bath would help. She just wished it would stop burning and aching.

*          *          *

A few days later, Emily found herself being introduced as her Mother’s daughter by her previous marriage at the engagement party. And Sir James very oddly kept telling everyone he introduced her to, “what a nice girl” she was. On the whole, she and her Mother seemed to be accepted, she realized with relief, though she kept wondering if anyone was noticing her distinct reluctance to sit down for long.

When everyone had gone, she and her Mother had a quiet glass of champagne together. Sir James seemed to leave them to it.

“He seems to have taken a fancy to you as the daughter he never had by his first marriage.” Mother observed. “He really likes you, says you took your correction remarkably well. I didn’t disillusion him. I am sure you are going to stay very close to Felicity and do much the same things as you have been doing. You are so much like your dear father, but you’d better be a little cautious when she comes here. Can you manage that? Otherwise, I might have to ban it, or put you in rooms at the opposite ends of the house.”

“Of course, Mama.” Emily responded, very demurely.

“And I ought not really tell you, but James keeps telling me what a pretty bottom I have. That might be something to work on, don’t you think? Now shall we have another glass of champagne together, daughter?”

The End

© Jane Fairweather 2018  To view Jane’s Amazon Author Page and a list of her ebooks, please click here